No More Nights at The Roost

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The Roost in Lexington Park has Closed After 60 Years in Business

LEXINGTON PARK - 8/21/2008

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By Judith E. Allen

Anchors Away

If you drive by the corner of Great Mills Road and Shangri-La Drive, you will no doubt notice the lights are off at The Roost restaurant, Lexington Park’s No. 1 watering hole for 60 years. The restaurant closed in April; its liquor license was transferred to new owners on July 11.

"Everybody went to The Roost. It has been there ever since I can remember.”

Stephen Conner

"It was a Navy bar," said Tom Daugherty of Maryland Bank and Trust. Sailors walked the two-lane road from Gate 2, the main gate years ago when the railroad went into Gate 1. “Allan Shepard, all the first astronauts went to The Roost,” Daugherty said. “When I was a pilot in the ’60s, if you went to any naval station in the world and said ‘I’m from Lexington Park,' someone would ask: ‘Do you know the Roost?’”

Happy hours were an important part of socialization and camaraderie during the early days of naval aviation, Daugherty added. “The Roost had a special feeling.” There were lockers on the second floor. Navy men could change into civilian clothes, loosen up, then get back into uniform and go back on base.

According to the St. Mary’s County Alcohol and Beverage Board, the liquor license attached to The Roost, 21736 Great Mills Road, was one of the oldest in the county, having been granted to John Rue in 1948. Rue initially opened The Roost in what is now Raley’s Furniture. He purchased the Great Mills Property in 1950 and opened at that address shortly thereafter.

There was a new address, but “The Roost never closed,” Daugherty said.

“We carried the actual bar over from the old place, Rue’s son, Gary, said, adding his father had been in World War II and had been a test pilot at Pax River..

Francis M. Harris, Rue’s full-time bartender, bought The Roost in 1962. His heirs ran the restaurant until April of this year.

“My parents started The Roost, but two generations of the Harris family worked there for their whole lives,” Gary Rue said. The most recent of the Harris owners, Billy, started when he was 16. “They really walked in the moccasins, so to speak,” Gary Rue added.

According to Daugherty, Harris always kept the Navy tradition alive; a favorite was collecting Navy officers’ hats. As well, patrons, who belonged to the Buckaroo Club, signed a dollar, put it on the wall, and then supposedly got store credit. When a regular shipped out, they got a plaque on the wall. Frequently, sailors adorned the restaurant with their own patches and hats. Every year, The Roost hosted a warm-up party during the test pilots’ reunion in April.

The warm-up party “went on until this spring," Gary Rue said, adding, in the ’50s, " the test pilot’s job was really dangerous. There were no simulators. Your job was to try and break those planes apart,” he said and went on to add some Roost memories of his own.

“Alan Beah, the astronaut, taught me to swim,” he said, and the original Blue Angels are in the guest book.

“When I was a kid, I went to the restaurant on Saturdays, put chewing gum on a stick and used it to collect change that had fallen behind the slot machines. I really liked Saturdays,” Gary Rue said. “Used the money to watch a monster movie … or buy models at Jack and Rays Rexall Drug Store,

“The Roost was a great landmark,” Daugherty said. “My Dad always boasted he had eaten more meals there than anybody. Nobody doubted him,” but that meant he ate many, many meals at The Roost.

“Everybody went to The Roost, said Stephen Conner,” a businessman from Lexington park. “It has been there ever since I can remember.” There were great filet mignons and monster burgers. Lots of antiques, from Louisiana, and none of them matched.

"The Roost was the centerpiece of Lexington Park, of St. Mary’s County," Daugherty said. “People gathered there,” held weddings, birthdays, even funerals. “It’s a real shame it won’t be there anymore,” he added, but “for those of us who knew it, The Roost will always exist in our hearts and in our minds.”

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